|From Beirut to Al-Dahya|
|I don’t know if what Affaf told me about her friend is true, that on the day of Rafiq Al-Hariri’s funeral she informed Affaf that she’d decided to leave Al-Dahya (a mostly Shia working-class district). “We’re miles away,” said the friend, who’d noticed that the live pictures being shown on TV looked as if they were coming from another country.
In Al-Dahya it was another normal day, whilst outside the atmosphere was thick with angry grief, and the gravity of events was drawing people together from across Lebanon’s social and religious spectrum. Al-Dahya and Beirut were worlds apart, and the gulf between them had only widened in the few days since Al-Hariri’s death. It might be an annual event, but this year the crowds of Al-Dahya residents celebrating Ashoura seemed to be deliberately imitating, and antagonizing, the crowds who had gathered for Al-Hariri.
In the days of party political activity before and during the war, any single event affected everyone, whether they supported it or not, provoking songs, debates and demonstrations. No longer. It wasn’t hard to see the difference. In Al-Dahya you saw an organized crowd of men—an undifferentiated lump of humanity—listening to the sermon of Al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hizballah. It was as different as could be from the second: women, men, children and adults, united in their differences, the edges of the demonstration spilling out from their main route as they walked beneath balconies where women dressed in black scattered rice on their heads.
There wasn’t a single security incident during the whole procession, not because it was well planned, but maybe because of the peaceable nature of the event itself or because the procession—made up of all sorts of different people, most of whom weren’t used to this sort of public protest—was compelled to cool its anger to maintain its unity. How different it was to Al-Dahya. Here, the men sat in regular rows, the distance between each man the same as the distance between his own two legs, arranged to give an impression of order and strength. A show of power or a display in preparation for fighting, a display that Lebanese television viewers have stopped automatically interpreting to mean fighting on the Israeli border.
This is because, as operations against Israel have been on the decline people have started asking what the point of this constant warmongering is. The price we pay for it is Al-Dahya behaving differently to the rest of the country on the day of Al-Hariri’s funeral. Five years ago the resistance won an unprecedented victory against Israel. It was a time for celebration, and no one questioned the need for the resistance fighters to remain armed. Yet we should have worked to retain the essence of that historical moment, not the force of arms that created it, which in turn creates an excuse to continue the warmongering that preceded it.
It seems that everyone, except members of the resistance, have noticed that it’s no longer quite so easy to justify the constant claim that we are at war. What about the Shebaa farms, you say? That isn’t a pretext for going to war, if those who claim to be fighting to liberate them refuse to address the question of whether they’re Lebanese or not in the first place. There’s no reason to keep the banners of war flying unless fighting is considered an end in itself. Then we’d be like our forefathers, composing odes in praise of warriors even in times of peace.
It was as if the news of Al-Hariri’s funeral had hardly reached Al-Dahya, whilst somehow carrying to the furthest corners of the country. It gathered people together in way that hadn’t been seen for years, for decades even. The funeral procession may have been deceptive in its inclusiveness, but it contained the seeds of something real and true. Only one party was missing: Hizballah and Amal, by their absence, prevented it from being whole. Those Shias who did attend, like us, said that Hizballah and Amal had committed an error by failing to participate. It was an error that was not rectified by the demonstration that started at the bombsite to mark the passing of a week since the assassination.
A young man, furious at their failure to appear, broke away from the procession and headed for a poster Al-Sayyid Mousa Al-Sadr stuck on a nearby wall. He was stopped from doing anything by those around him, who from previous experience knew the danger such angry young men can pose, sweeping more rational men out of the way, just as the militias and soldiers turned us all into victims and onlookers during the war. I was nearby, and perhaps I should have been among those who held him back. But I said to myself, “Not you. You’re Shia. He’ll misunderstand.”
In other words, those many Shiites present at the funeral, joining with others in their grief and anger, should have done more to make their presence felt. They needed to see flags belonging to their parties, to save them from the embarrassing position of having others think they hadn’t come at all.
The two main Shia parties should have raised their flags, since the other disparate Shia factions have no flags to raise, numerous though they are. Life will always be hard and perhaps hopeless as long as choosing not to belong to a movement in Lebanon puts you in a shameful and embarrassing position. Even the Lebanese flag itself will not be raised if those who carry it feel it represents nothing but vain dreams.
Marseille,03 06 2005